Cardinal Points, vol. 10

Thanks to the hard work of my fellow editor, Irina Mashinski, the latest volume of Cardinal Points is ready for purchase, just in time for Thanksgiving! The journal has reached a milestone — this is its tenth volume — and as befits that round number, the contents are pleasingly well-rounded, balanced between new and old, classical and experimental, lyrical and prickly. The journal is also full of doublings and echoes: Yulia Kartalova O Doherty and Veniamin Gushchin offer two zestful translations of Vladimir Mayakovsky from different periods of his career; Ilya Kutik and Reginald Gibbons expertly contextualize Marina Tsvetaeva’s last poem (addressed to Arseny Tarkovsky), while Olga Zaslavsky examines the poet’s final letter from France (addressed to her friend Anna Tesková); and James Manteith introduces his delicate, inventive translations of the song-poems of Alexander Vertinsky, Novella Matveyeva, and Oleg Woolf (CP’s founding editor), while Simon Nicholls, a specialist in Alexander Scriabin, offers an exquisite rendition of Konstantin Balmont’s “Elf” (1917), which depicts the great composer at the piano. I’ll share Nicholls’s translation in full, by way of overture:

First, fairies in a moonlit dance you’d see.
The manly sharps and soft flats feminine,
They acted out a kiss, an aching pain.
The right hand purled their tiny courtoisies.

Enchanter-sounds then broke through in the left,
The will, a cry of wills entwined, sang out.
The king of harmonies, the radiant elf,
Was carving subtle cameos from sounds.

His stream of sound set faces all awhirl —
They radiated light, now gold, now steel,
Expressed both joy and sorrow interfurled.

And thunder sang, and crowds were on the march,
And man and god as equals were arrayed…
All this is what I saw when Scriabin played.

You can find Balmont’s original here. Other highlights include Kevin Windle’s essay on translating Valery Bryusov and Randi Anderson’s on reproducing the metrical music of Pushkin and Tsvetaeva. But the centerpieces of the journal are two rediscovered treasures from the second half of the 20th century, Windle’s versions of four short stories by the Polish author Sławomir Mrożek and Daphne Skillen’s interview with the Soviet countercultural icon Venedikt Yerofeyev, skillfully translated by Seth Graham and annotated by Ilya Simanovsky and Svetlana Shnitman-McMillin. Russian-speakers can listen to the original here and read it here. A part of the interview seems calculated to please a certain contingent of the Anglophone audience:

I like England very much. I even like its geographic shape on the map [both laugh]. There’s just something about it! Compare it to the ridiculous shape of Iran, for example. Or even Belgium… There’s a kind of awkwardness in the very configuration of the country. Britain’s very close to my heart, and the Brits generally… The British have had almost too much influence on all of us, if we leave aside the sphere of music. Who is indifferent to the British?

Yerofeyev also has some choice words for the Argentinian “hooligans” who went after the Falkland Islands. His infatuation with Margaret Thatcher serves as a valuable reminder: for all that they shared in terms of lifestyle and artistic sensibility, the countercultures in the USSR and in the West didn’t exactly see eye to eye on all political matters. “I was very, very happy for Margaret Thatcher,” Yerofeyev tells Skillen. “I applauded every one of her speeches, and even every bodily movement she made.” (I can’t help but think of Fred Armisen’s parody of a punk rocker’s conservative turn.)

Venedikt Yerofeyev lighting up.

There are many more surprises in Yerofeyev’s interview and in the volume as a whole. The full contents are below. As always, I thank Irina for her tireless work and Brown University’s Department of Slavic Studies for their support. See here for volume 9 (2019), here for volume 8 (2018), here for volume 7 (2017), and here for the journal’s website.


Vladimir Batshev, “One on One: An Excerpt from Descendant of Bathsheba” (trans. from the Russian by Will Firth)
Alex Couprin, “Hello, Cat” (trans. from the Russian by Yura Dashevsky)
Yelena Lembersky, “Bears Came to Town”
Anatoly Movshevich, “The Old Railway Carriage” (trans. from the Russian by Nicolas Pasternak Slater)
Sławomir Mrożek, Four Short Stories (trans. from the Polish by Kevin Windle)
Sergei Skarupo, “Tendernob”


Venedikt Yerofeyev: A Recovered Interview with Daphne Skillen, transcribed, introduced and annotated by Ilya Simanovsky and Svetlana Shnitman-Mcmillin, trans. from the Russian by Seth Graham


Konstantin Balmont, “Elf” (trans. from the Russian by Simon Nicholls)
Vladimir Mayakovsky, “Listen!” (trans. from the Russian by Yulia Kartalova O Doherty)
Vladimir Mayakovsky, “American Russians” (trans. from the Russian by Veniamin Gushchin)
Anna Prismanova, Two Poems (trans. from the Russian by Nora Moseman)
Viktor Shirali, Three Poems (trans. from the Russian by J. Kates)
Alexander Veytsman, Two Poems

The Art of Translation

Randi Anderson, “‘If Only You Could Hear the Music!’: Translating Pushkin and Tsvetaeva with Rhyme and Meter”
James Manteith, “Aligning with Eccentrics: Alexander Vertinsky and Novella Matveyeva”
James Manteith, “Thriving by Thirsty Grasp: Oleg Woolf’s ‘Nightingale’”
Kevin Windle, “The Total Effect of Valery Bryusov”
Ilya Kutik and Reginald Gibbons, “Marina Tsvetaeva’s Last Poem”
Olga Zaslavsky, “Marina Tsvetaeva’s Farewell Letter”

7 thoughts on “Cardinal Points, vol. 10

  1. Congratulations, Boris, Irina and “Cardinal Points” contributors, on another deep and varied issue, so wonderfully evoked by the generous commentary. The sharing of “Elf” is particularly special to savor from St. Petersburg, where the “Apraksin Blues” piano has just had a re-tuning. Much gratitude to everyone engaged in keeping complex cross-cultural music sounding.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you as always, James, for your contributions and your kindness! The volume would be considerably less deep and varied without your elegant translations and eloquent prose. Play on, my friend!


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